Ontario's Accessibility Plan
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. The act is the foundation of the government's plan to make Ontario accessible for people with disabilities by 2025.
Under the act, Ontario is creating standards that will break down barriers for people with disabilities in five areas of everyday life. The Customer Service Standard is already in place for the broader public sector, and the private sector will follow by January 1, 2012. The next three proposed accessibility standards cover Information and Communications, Employment and Transportation.
In order to effectively enforce these new standards, the government is developing a system of monetary penalties to be used in cases of non-compliance, as well as an appeals tribunal.
Information and Communications
The proposed Accessible Information and Communications Standard outlines how business and organizations will be required to create, provide and receive information and communications in ways that are accessible for people with disabilities.
The proposed Employment Accessibility Standard will require organizations that provide paid employment to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities across all stages of the employment life cycle including recruitment, retention and returning to work.
The proposed Accessible Transportation Standard will make it easier for people to travel in Ontario, including people with disabilities, older Ontarians and families traveling with children in strollers.
Making the Standards Easier to Implement
In response to public feedback from the standards review process, Ontario will integrate these next three standards into one streamlined regulation. This was also one of the recommendations made by Charles Beer in his independent review of the AODA.
The integrated accessibility regulation, if passed, will make the standards easier to understand and implement. It will offer greater flexibility and reduce both costs and regulatory burden, all in keeping with the government's Open for Business initiative.
When the Accessible Built Environment Standard is finalized and when the Customer Service Standard comes up for review in 2013, the government will consider how best to streamline those as well.
Private organizations will still be expected to meet the customer service standard requirements by January 1, 2012.
Requirements for the next four standards will be phased in to give organizations time to plan. Deadlines will depend on the size and nature of the organization.
The province will develop free tools and educational materials in advance of compliance deadlines to help organizations meet their requirements, and the Ontario Public Service will be the first organization required to implement the standards.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 gives the government the authority to set monetary penalties to enforce compliance with accessibility standards. The proposed penalties will only be used after all compliance assistance efforts have been exhausted.
Proposed amounts for these penalties range from $200 to $15,000, depending on the size and type of organization, their compliance history and the impact of the violation.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 calls for a tribunal to hear appeals from organizations that have been issued an enforcement action (e.g., an order to comply or a monetary penalty) that they wish to dispute.
After reviewing several tribunals, the government has selected the provincial Licence Appeal Tribunal. The Licence Appeal Tribunal has experience with similar types of appeals and is well known by the business community due to its involvement with consumer protection regulation.
The tribunal will not have the authority to hear claims by individuals who wish to make complaints about specific businesses and organizations.